New York governor adds new clean power goals after meeting with Gore

At a conference with former Vice President Al Gore on Oct. 8, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new actions to combat climate change while reaffirming his commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across New York State.

The governor reinforced New York’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. He also directed state agencies to develop a broad North American carbon market and committed to more innovative solar investments. Cuomo also signaled his commitment to phase out coal-fired power generation in New York State stating that: “We established the state’s first carbon dioxide emissions standard when siting new power plants which will ensure that no new dirty, coal-burning plants will be built in the State of New York, period. We are also repowering and converting or closing the existing coal plants.”

Lisa Dix, Senior New York Beyond Coal Representative at the Sierra Club, said in an Oct. 9 statement: “The Sierra Club applauds Governor Cuomo’s continued commitment to combatting climate disruption. As the Governor noted ’it’s the New York way to lead.’  We urge the Governor to look at this as a moment of opportunity where he can not only commit to cutting carbon pollution, but commit to putting an end the largest source of that pollution – New York’s four remaining coal plants. Now is the time for an enforceable commitment to end coal burning in the Empire state by the end of the decade.”

New York’s last coal-fired plants, already relatively old and small compared to nationwide averages, have been barely hanging on lately. Cuomo has been backing a stalled plan by NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG) to convert three of four units at the Dunkirk plant to gas and to retire the fourth unit. Greenidge Generation wants to bring back a shut coal unit at the Greenidge plant – but only on gas. The Sierra Club has generally been opposed to the coal-to-gas conversions, saying that even cleaner options are available.

“Climate change is an issue of society’s sustainability – and to deny that climate change is real is to deny reason,” Cuomo said in an Oct. 8 statement. “Today, New York is stepping up. We are demonstrating the leadership and focus that this issue demands. We are joining together and committing ourselves to tackling climate change and showing the nation what is possible. Now it is up to world leaders to follow suit.”

Gore is a dedicated environmentalist and Nobel Prize winner, and has pushed hard for years for emissions controls to prevent climate change.

“The leadership shown by Governor Cuomo and New York State to make bold emissions reductions commitments is vital to solving the climate crisis,” said Gore. “On the eve of the Paris climate negotiations, New York’s efforts to reduce emissions and join with others like California, Quebec, and Ontario to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy send a strong signal to world leaders: local, regional, and state governments are taking climate action now.”

Cuomo’s plans have several new features

Cuomo on Oct. 8 signed the Under 2 MOU (Memorandum of Understanding), an agreement between states, provinces and cities worldwide to affirm their commitment to help keep the earth’s average temperature from increasing 2 degrees Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, as measured against pre-industrial levels. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change determined that global warming must be kept below 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, such as significant sea level rise.

New York has already committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions envisioned by the Under 2 MOU. Earlier this year, as part of the 2015 State Energy Plan, New York set the most aggressive target in the nation to reduce emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. To achieve these reductions, New York has launched one of the most comprehensive and transformative clean energy agendas in the nation through Reforming the Energy Vision.

New York and the other northeast regional greenhouse gas cap and trade states have demonstrated that carbon markets are a powerful tool for reducing the pollution that is contributing to climate change, said the Cuomo statement. Therefore, in order to maximize impact of proven strategies, New York State will engage its partners in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and California, Quebec and Ontario to explore the possibility of linking the successful carbon markets.‎ Connecting these markets would be more cost-effective and stable, thereby supporting clean energy and driving international carbon emission reductions. New York State will also engage other states and provinces to build a broader carbon market‎ and further drive an international discussion that encourages government action on carbon emissions.

In 2013, Cuomo dedicated $1 billion to the New York solar industry through the NY SUN Initiative. Since then, the state has committed $270 million and supported the deployment of solar across 30,000 homes and businesses. Building on this progress, the governor announced a commitment to bring solar to 150,000 more homes and businesses by 2020. For the first time ever, commercial projects will be able to share the power they generate on their properties with surrounding community members through the governor’s Shared Renewables program.

The governor also announced that State University of New York (SUNY), the nation’s largest statewide public university system, will install renewable energy, including solar and other technologies, at each of its 64 campuses by 2020. This commitment builds on SUNY’s existing goals of improving its energy efficiency performance by 20% and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020. The governor challenged private colleges and universities to join SUNY in their commitment. To support public and private schools investing in solar, the New York Power Authority will provide new tools and resources to evaluate, manage, and contract solar lease agreements with private sector partners.

In addition, New York State will invest in clean, renewable power across all of its public buildings and facilities, expanding upon its ambitious energy efficiency objectives.

Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) protects the environment and supports the state’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% while generating 50% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. Successful initiatives already launched as part of REV include NY-Sun, NY Green Bank, NY Prize, K-Solar and a commitment to improve energy affordability for low-income communities.

This Oct. 8 announcement builds upon New York State’s Climate Week (Sep. 22-29) initiatives including providing $175 million for five large-scale clean energy projects to increase electricity generation from renewable energy sources, a $35 million project to make Roberto Clemente State Park’s Harlem River waterfront greener and more storm-resilient, and a $3 million clean energy competition for colleges and universities in New York State.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.